questions failure

‘Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with the situation?’

Why are recruiters asking this?

It’s okay to fail. It happens to everyone, and having “failure” experiences are an important and necessary part of learning. 

When recruiters ask “failure” questions it can be surprising or uncomfortable. When selecting a story where things didn’t go as well as you wanted, avoid sharing really huge mistakes, and also avoid unrealistically simple answers. No one is perfect, and if you say you are, it’s not believable. 

If an interviewer asks you about your failures or mistakes, pick a real situation that you can speak honestly about. It doesn’t need to be the worst mistake of your career, it’s probably best to pick a story you feel somewhat comfortable to share. 

Start by defining what you consider failure to be (which varies from person to person) which can help you frame the answer as you like. Explain what you learned and how you try to avoid these kinds of issues in the future. 

Checklist for a great answer 

  • Prepare a story in advance (focusing on negative traits can be uncomfortable and takes practice)
  • Highlight your role in the failure even if it was a team or group result – the story is about you
  • Use the STAR method
  • Don’t give too many details or try to convince the interviewer

Examples

My biggest professional failure was in my previous role as a project manager at XYZ Consulting. Our team failed to land a $4 million new project from one of our existing long-term clients. It should have been easy, but we didn’t have enough time to prepare the bid well enough. We considered that because we knew everyone at the client’s office we would automatically be awarded the contract. Our pitch went well but we didn’t dedicate the time to think about the proposal in detail and it showed. The client received other bids that really had a 360-approach. Losing this business was disappointing, particularly for me as I felt responsible for the bid we prepared, and I love getting new business. So, to make sure this wouldn’t happen again, I volunteered to do an internal post-mortem evaluation to learn from this experience. The lessons learned are still leading the company’s bid preparation process to this day.

Other similar questions

  • Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with the situation?
  • What was your biggest mistake?
  • Tell me about a major setback you’ve had. How did you deal with it?
  • We all make mistakes we wish we could take back. Tell me about a time you wish you’d handled a situation differently with a colleague.
  • Give me an example of a time when you did not meet a client’s expectation. What happened, and how did you attempt to rectify the situation?

How do I get better at these questions?

PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE! 

The illustrious economist and statistician EF Schumacher once said: “An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.” We at Mockmate strongly believe in exactly this, which is why we created our AI-powered job interview simulator.  Now is the time to stop reading blog posts and watching YouTube videos, and begin to perfect your interview skills by actually doing it! Get started here!

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